The camp ended with a bit of a whimper Saturday as a team comprised of the remaining U.S. players at the National Junior Evaluation Camp fell to Finland 3-2 today in overtime. It wasn’t the best way to end the camp, but was an acceptable result considering the U.S. sat its most consistent offensive units.
I’ll have a full recap of the camp on Monday as well as a way-too-early projected roster (selected only from players in camp, so it’s more like an All-NJEC team than the final USA roster for the World Juniors), to wrap the bow on NJEC coverage.
Today’s game wasn’t the best indication of what to expect going forward for the World Juniors, but provided an opportunity for the players most in need of extra evaluation time to show what they can do. Some players certainly seized the opportunity, while others may have fallen a little flat.
Overall, USA Hockey can be really pleased with the camp they just had and the group they ended up with. There’s going to be several tough decisions along the way.
Coming up after the jump, a U.S. scoring recap, a look inside today’s lineup and notes on some of the better performances from the 3-2 overtime loss to Finland.
The lineup for today’s game:
Stefan Matteau – Steven Fogarty – Tyler Biggs
Reid Boucher – Vincent Trocheck – Nic Kerdiles
Jimmy Vesey – Cole Bardreau – Ryan Hartman
Blake Pietila – Travis Boyd – Colin Blackwell
Thomas Di Pauli
Brady Skjei – Connor Murphy Anthony Stolarz
Jake McCabe – Matt Grzelcyk Jon Gillies
Patrick Sieloff – Garrett Haar
Here’s a look at how the goals were scored:
Tyler Biggs got both of the U.S. goals in today’s loss, both coming from in tight.
With the U.S. trailing 1-0 in the third and on the power play, Matt Grzelcyk found himself in space on the power play and let go a wrist shot from the top of the left faceoff circle. Biggs got a stick on it in traffic, earning credit for the goal.
With 5:27 to go in regulation, Aleksander Barkov forced Connor Murphy to turn the puck over and slipped a pass to Arturri Lehkonen whose shot went off the post, off Jon Gillies and in to make it 2-1.
Biggs struck again with 2:44 remaining in regulation after going hard to the net and shoving home his own rebound to tie things up. Brady Skjei got credit with an assist on the play.
After regulation ended in a tie, the game went to a 4-on-4 overtime. Travis Boyd, who had been stellar most of the game, lost control of the puck at the offensive blue line. Miro Aaltonen picked up the loose puck, and streaked in on a breakaway. Gillies got a piece of the first shot, but Aaltonen tucked home the rebound to give the Finns their only win of the week in Lake Placid.
Anthony Stolarz stopped all 16 shots he faced in 39:24 of action today having started the first half of the game, while Gillies was credited with 14 saves on 17 shots.
Here’s a look at some of the more notable performances from today’s contest:
Tyler Biggs — Once again it was the newly-signed Maple Leafs prospect that was leading the charge for Team USA. Not often thought to be a consistent producer, Biggs ended up with six points in three games against international competition including three goals and three assists. Both of his goals were typical of Biggs — in front of the net and not quitting on the play. The big man is showing good speed and is playing an effective power-forward style. That’s what he needs to be for this team. At his very best, he plays a man’s game and is incredibly tough to play against. He was that in three straight games in camp, which is a great sign for him and Team USA.
Brady Skjei — I thought Skjei was Team USA’s best defenseman today, away from the shadow of former U18 teammates Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba. Skjei was his normal, slick-skating self, but showed even better puck-moving skills than he’s displayed previously in camp. He was working the power-play with Connor Murphy extremely well and got himself involved a little more offensively. He was so sound positionally today, which made things difficult for the finish forwards. There are some elements of his game that could use polish, no doubt, but based on what he showed in camp, he belongs in the conversation as a potential No. 5 or 6 Dman on this team.
Travis Boyd — Up until his egregious turnover on the game-winning goal, Boyd was the most noticeable center in today’s game. Boyd is playing with confidence and playing with pace, which are two things he needs to do to be successful. He has some good puck skills and really knows how to utilize the big ice to his advantage. Boyd also showed some really terrific defensive capabilities, getting a lot of time on the penalty kill and staying on Finland’s top forwards. If Boyd is to make the team, it’s likely in a fourth-line defensive role. He has an uphill battle, but he left a good last impression, even if his final play might leave a bad taste in his mouth.
Jake McCabe — With each game, I think Jake McCabe improved. He’s probably gunning for a No. 6 or 7 spot on the D corps, but he showed his two way capabilities. His skating has come a long way since his U18 days and that was no more evident than when he beat out fellow Sabres prospect Joel Armia in a footrace to a loose puck, calmly steering it away from danger. There’s more patience to McCabe and a calmness to him on most shifts that allows him to make more of an impact. Would have liked to see him throw the weight around a little more, but he was effective.
Blake Pietila — If the U.S. wants to have a shutdown line in Ufa, I think Pietila made a great case for why he should be on it in this camp. Relentless on the puck, he just never quits on a play. He’s showing much better speed than I remember out of him and has played the body. He’s a guy that wants to take the puck from you, and wants to do something with it when he gets it. Pietila has some offensive ability too, even if he lacks a that little bit of finish. No matter what, I think he has positioned himself well for a roster spot.
Matt Grzelcyk — Another noticeable game from Grzelcyk offensively for Team USA. There’s an aggressiveness to Grzelcyk’s game at both ends of the ice which really works. He’s got a good stick, he’s aggressive on the walls and he’s not afraid to turn it up ice himself. Grzelcyk has terrific vision and a high hockey IQ. He knows how to get pucks to net and find the open man and can do it all while moving. Grzelcyk plays with pace and can adjust to the tempo of a game, but when he has the puck, he’s the one dictating the tempo. That’s pretty remarkable for a 5-9 defenseman. If Mike Reilly and Shayne Gostisbehere didn’t have such eye-popping camps, I’d say no question Grzelcyk is well positioned for a spot. If the U.S. decides to take three separate puck-moving, offensively dynamic guys for the blue line, Grzelcyk would be one of the guys going (assuming his play carries over to his freshman year at BU). He’s a 1994-born, so you give the benefit of the doubt to the older guys, but Grzelcyk had a really impressive game against Finland and a terrific camp.
Anthony Stolarz — Not allowing a goal in 36 minutes is a pretty good way to end the camp. Making 16 saves, Stolarz had a really nice day. He is still incredibly raw, can get a little wild in his crease and doesn’t always look like a top-end goaltender, but he can get the job done. I don’t know that he did enough to edge out a guy like Garret Sparks who is more technically sound, but he definitely kept himself in the mix for the team going forward. He’s never had any formal coaching, so if he can rein in some of his athleticism — which is immense, by the way — and channel it properly, he’s got a chance to be special.
Connor Murphy — Despite the turnover on Finland’s second goal, it was such an uncharacteristic mistake that it’s not much of a concern. Murphy looked really good on the point with Brady Skjei. The pair was moving the play, leading the transition and playing really well positionally. Murphy might be a step slower than most of the defensemen in camp, but he makes up for it with his smarts. He knows how to play the game. He knows how to be successful and he can do a little bit of everything. It wasn’t an overwhelmingly great camp for Murphy, but he’s firmly in the mix for the team in December.
Now that the camp is over, I’ll take some time to look over my notes and give a complete wrap up on Monday.
Thanks to you all who have dropped by the blog, I’m guessing many of you for the first time, to check out the NJEC coverage. Hope you’ll stick around for the year as I’ll be following the WJC candidates all season leading up to the tournament in this space and also hope to have comprehensive World Junior Championship coverage come December.
If you can’t wait til Monday, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter with your questions.